Review: Results

The “mumblecore” movement was always terribly named and unfairly scrutinized, even by connoisseurs of American independent film. From the early-2000s on, filmmakers like Joe Swanberg, the Duplass brothers, Lynn Shelton, and Andrew Bujalski produced micro-budget features, often with amateur actors, focusing on naturalistic situations (the inevitable comparison to John Cassavetes was appropriate, though not always flattering). These films have often been accused of pretension for asking their audiences to care about the low-stakes relationship drama of aimless twenty- and thirty-somethings, but that was rather the point: as Hollywood strayed ever further into big-budget CGI world-shattering conflicts and even mainstream indie cinema shot for Oscars with quirky feel-good comedies, it was a small but necessary statement to suggest that films don’t have to be a life or death affair of redemption and overly wrought emotion. The peace and quiet of it all meant we could just see some faces that we weren’t used to seeing on screen (be it black lovers in Barry Jenkins’ “Medicine for Melancholy,” or aimless young women in Lena Dunham’s pre-“Girls” feature “Tiny Furniture”), without raising a giant think-piece fuss about it. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and a movie is just a movie.

There’s nothing about that notion that can’t survive with a slightly larger budget and capable professionals, and the way Shelton, Swanberg, et al, have started working with increasingly starry ensembles (to results, it must be said, as varied in quality as their early output) demonstrates that “mumblecore” was born more out of practicality than philosophy. Bujalski in particular was clearly chafing against the supposed constraints of his movement in 2013’s “Computer Chess,” a film that was clever, curious, and possibly utter nonsense, but was certainly not “natural.”

Bujalski’s follow-up, “Results,” continues to subtly push filmmaking fantasy into a conversational, character-driven context. While “Computer Chess” messed quite openly with reality, with retro-camera flair and explicit dream and drug sequences, the flight of fancy in “Results” is more structural, and only reveals itself gradually. In fact, it’s not until quite late in the game, after a lot of stretching and lifting and hemming and hawing, that Bujalski reveals what we’ve been watching: a pretty standard rom-com, of the sort that the major studios can’t be bothered to make anymore.

At least, the genre has generally been pushed out of the multiplex. “Results” would never have been considered “standard” even in the days when Nora Ephron, Nancy Meyers and Cameron Crowe reigned, but the same general pieces are there. Cobie Smulders plays Kat, a personal trainer living in Austin and the object of something approaching affection for both Trevor (Guy Pearce), her boss, and Danny (Kevin Corrigan), a schlubby, newly wealthy oddball who wanders into Trevor’s gym wanting to learn “how to take a punch.” Danny makes an awkward and unwanted pass at Kat, who reacts badly, and inspires something of a crisis in confidence in Trevor. He and Kat previously had a short fling that the two only half-acknowledge, and he struggles to reconcile his growing jealousy and interest in Kat with his plans of expanding his gym and spreading his home-grown fitness philosophy.

The jabs at the pseudo-spiritual babble of personal fitness are entertaining but never cruel – Bujalski has an unexpected empathy for its advocates, Trevor especially, putting “Results” somewhere closer to a James L. Brooks workplace rom-com like “Broadcast News” than the realm of satire. When Anthony Michael Hall shows up as a Russian kettlebell guru, the whole bit is remarkably underplayed, the neuroses of Trevor and Kat allowed to dominate the scene over this potential farce. Bujalski never takes the obvious joke, and for that reason the film never perhaps never achieves show-stopping hilarity; but it continually surprises with smaller, more knowing chuckles.

The understatement in Bujalski’s script and direction puts most of the film’s weight on its ensemble, who more than deliver. All of them are cast well within their type, but Bujalski allows them the space to fiddle and find the endearing quirks and details that make them instantly recognizable as actual human beings. Corrigan has always been an invaluable character actor (you might recognize him as Ray Liotta’s little brother in “Goodfellas”), and Pearce’s appeal as a leading man, which Hollywood never managed to fully capitalize on, lies in the fragile and wounded sense of insecurity he can convey through a tough exterior. Smulders might be the revelation, though perhaps my surprise was just from realizing how under-served she was by the endless back half of “How I Met Your Mother.” Kat is a terrific character, particularly among the simplistic portrayals of women that usually populate rom-coms – she’s acerbic and quick to anger, but most importantly, not a secret softie underneath. The overall screen time strays a little unfortunately more towards Trevor and Danny’s side of the story, but Kat is allowed to be (and remain) as complex a jumble of sympathies and desires as her two co-leads.

The choices made by these actors, and in Bujalski’s script, keep things from feeling formulaic. At the same time, that strips “Results” of much sense of urgency – a natural and ultimately predictable endpoint emerges, but it can’t help but feel somewhat arbitrary among all the narrative noodling. But it’s a solid, fulfilling, and even fun variety of noodle: one that lets capable adult actors have capable adult problems and interact in conversations that don’t feel tailored around sound bites. It’s a small joy that comes along all too rarely these days.

Verdict: 3 out of 4 stars

Trailers of the Week: The Tower

Gone Girl

David Fincher’s last effort, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” felt mostly like the director was running in place – a genre exercise to keep him in shape, and not a whole lot else (Rooney Mara’s scathing performance as Lisbeth Salander was unfortunately balanced out by Daniel Craig sleepwalking his way through the entire film). Gillian Flynn’s thriller “Gone Girl” has a little more going for it, thematically: marital strife in hard economic times, ravenous media, dishonesty. The casting is also intriguing, with Ben Affleck continuing his efforts to reinvent and reinvigorate his place as one of Hollywood’s big-name leading men, and Rosamund Pike finally in a high-profile role worthy of her talent. This trailer is as stylish and intriguing as we’ve come to expect from Fincher projects (remember that phenomenal campaign for “The Social Network?”), but am I the only one getting a little bored of the same old shadowy aesthetic? I want to buy Jeff Cronenweth a nice standing lamp.

A Most Wanted Man

This year’s Sundance festival was generally perceived as a little lackluster (witness, no Sundance selection made it to Cannes’ Un Certain Regard this year, breaking with a sort of unofficial tradition of recent years). But one of the few consensus standouts was Anton Corbijn’s adaptation of John le Carré’s “A Most Wanted Man,” and in particular Philip Seymour Hoffman’s lead performance as weary German intelligence agent Günther Bachmann. It is continually sobering to know this will be one of our last chances to see Hoffman on the big screen, but it’s obvious even from this brief look that he will be as phenomenal as he ever was. He’s a perfect fit for a le Carré lead – dedicated, unglamorous, the definition of a slow burn.

Corbijn also seems a good fit for the material, coming off the heels of “The American,” another contemporary spy thriller that suffered only from a bit of a half-baked narrative. That shouldn’t be a problem here with le Carré at hand, and Corbijn’s controlled, precise style is an appropriate way to visualize a world where one false step has dire consequences. This one’s high on my most anticipated titles of the year.

Maps to the Stars

I just…I’m not even sure…what?

The Homesman

As with the above David Cronenberg nut-fest, Tommy Lee Jones’ “The Homesman” will premiere on the Croisette in May. And I’m not the most objective source here, considering my irrational fondness for all things frontier, but I love everything about this trailer. I love the concept. I love Tommy Lee Jones in this role, and even Hilary Swank, who’s been far too fond of baity prestige pieces of late, seems suited to her part. I love the ensemble, with interesting character actors like Tim Blake Nelson, John Lithgow, David Dencik, Jesse Plemons, and let’s not forget Meryl, filling out the cast. I love “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada,” I love Kelly Reichardt’s “Meek’s Cutoff,” which has a lot of this particular flavor of homestead isolation. I’m all in.

The Rover

And of course, the only thing better than an American frontier Western is a post-apocalyptic future Australian Outback Western! I’m not entirely sure what accent Robert Pattinson thinks he’s doing, but Guy Pearce was terrific in “The Proposition” and he seems to be tapping into that same vein of TERRIFYING here. I’ve never seen David Michod’s “Animal Kingdom,” which was a surprise critical hit back in 2010, earning Jacki Weaver her first Oscar nomination and putting Joel Edgerton on the map. It’s certainly on my priority list to catch up with before “The Rover” debuts out of competition at a midnight screening at Cannes next month.

Trailers of the Week: And the Band Played On

The Oscars are a week gone already, and the film world has settled into that soothing lull between awards circuit madness and the summer blockbuster explosion. Things will ramp up again very soon with “Captain America 2” on its way in early April, but in the meantime here’s a few rhythmically-inclined teasers to remind you that even now in the quieter weeks, the music never stops.


Lenny Abrahamson’s absurd-looking story of a musician who prefers to hide behind a bizarre fishbowl head had its share of defenders and detractors at Sundance, and indeed it strikes me as a conceit that could either turn out brilliantly or insufferably precocious. But I’m enthusiastic after this first look, which proves that Michael Fassbender is an unearthly charismatic performer even when he’s got nothing but his voice and body language. I’m a fan of all the ensemble, in fact – Maggie Gyllenhaal is at her best in the dry, incisive mode she’s showing off here, Scoot McNairy is the kind of character actor that delivers no matter thankless role he’s given (hello, “Non-Stop”), and Domhnall Gleeson is proving to be a likably offbeat leading man. As long as the black comedy outweighs the self-conscious quirkiness, this could be a winner.

Breathe In

Doremus isn’t really stretching himself in terms of style in his follow-up to 2011 Sundance sleeper “Like Crazy” – the melancholic, hesitant mood and deceptively controlled camerawork here seems much the same as his debut. The melodrama has been ratcheted up a notch, though, moving from the perils of modern long-distance relationships to the turmoil of a music teacher falling for the foreign exchange student he and his wife are hosting. Both Guy Pearce and Felicity Jones look relaxed with Doremus’ improvisational approach to his scripts – Pearce even manages to deliver that clunky, trite “you don’t seem as young as you actually are” line with authenticity. There’s a literary sort of emotional truth that helps “Like Crazy” mostly ring true, even when the plotting tips toward the incredulous – can Doremus bring that same touch to “Breathe In,” with what looks like an even more overdone narrative?

The Broken Circle Breakdown

The Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars is always an opportunity for a few adventurous titles to get their name out to a wider audience that would otherwise never ever hear of them. Titles like “The Great Beauty” and “The Hunt” had at least a little exposure to art-house viewers, but even the most dedicated cinephiles might have been hard-pressed to tell you anything about Belgium’s submission, a bluegrass-infused relationship drama that quietly earned a fair amount of acclaim on the festival circuit last year. Be forewarned, I read that “Broken Circle Breakdown” is far more “Blue Valentine” than “Crazy Heart” – but as a huge fan of the former, I have no problems with that, and this stylish little teaser has certainly piqued my interest.